Alan Howard skilful as Coriolanus

Shakespeare's Coriolanus is perhaps the ultimate study of a man ruined by pride. Violent-tempered, arrogant and single-minded, he is his own worst enemy. But these weaknesses, as Alan Howard demonstrates with remarkable skill in the Royal Shakespeare Company's production now transferred to the Aldwych Theatre, spring from a fundamental fault at the root of the character's personality.

Here is very much a "man-child", a warlord totally devoid of any form of self-knowledge or insight and quite incapable of exercising self-control. Mr Howard comes over as a veritable gladiator of a patrician who is at heart a boy. He responds to no one but his mother.

As at Stratford-on-Avon, where this production opened last October, his Coriolanus is an arrogant, intolerant general who bears a built-in sneer. At times he seems like a man possessed, staring into space with the glazed expression of someone on a dangerous ego trip. Banished from Rome, he declares wearily: "There is a world elsewhere."

In this case, it is evident that the war-loving hero with the clenched, mailed fist, is already deep in a private other-world of his own.

Terry Hands's exciting production is both stark and symbolic.

The action mostly takes place in an arena resembling a black ravine from which there seems little hope of escape. This is particularly true in the case of Coriolanus, trapped as he is by his own fearful egotism and fiery, impulsive nature. The mind of the man is thus given almost physical expression.

Only a commanding figure could hope to influence such an impossible titan. Maxine Audley, as Volumnia, is just such a person: a grave and powerful matriarch. Julian Glover, a formidable adversary as Tullus Aufidius, suggests that on the battlefield, too, Coriolanus would not have matters entirely all his own way.

And in Graham Crowden's Menenius, this Rome has a sprightly man of peace.

Keith Nurse

Daily Telegraph, 5.6.78.


Playing Shakespeare/Coriolanus